The in­vis­i­ble ill­ness

Mint ST - - WELLNESS -

A new book takes a close look at the ris­ing cases of obe­sity in the coun­try, and finds an­swers in our re­la­tion­ship with food

Obe­sity is a low en­ergy state. This de­scrip­tion of obe­sity as an in­vis­i­ble ill­ness marks the start­ing point of FAT: The Body, Food And Obe­sity (Speak­ing Tiger Books), which un­der­takes a sci­en­tific ex­plo­ration of our re­la­tion­ship with food. Au­thored by pae­di­atric sur­geons Dr Ishrat Syed and Dr Kal­pana Swami­nathan, FAT sim­pli­fies how the body feels about what we eat, rather than how our body looks, which is of­ten the start­ing point of many ap­pear­ance-driven health and beauty move­ments to­day. There are sober­ing num­bers driv­ing this in­quiry: In 1975, In­dia had 0.4 mil­lion obese men and 0.8 mil­lion obese women. In 2016, these fig­ures in­flated to 9.8 mil­lion men and 20 mil­lion women, lead­ing to greater health com­pli­ca­tions like hy­per­ten­sion, di­a­betes and os­teo­poro­sis.

Trav­el­ling as far back as 1500 BC, when

Sushruta, a physi­cian in an­cient In­dia, iden­ti­fied the ab­domen as the body’s pre­ferred fat de­pot, to re­cent med­i­cal find­ings, the two com­bine mod­ern re­search and an­cient knowl­edge to ex­plore the drivers of obe­sity in In­dia.

The an­swers lead to fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights about how our bod­ies func­tion. For in­stance, when the brain is un­der stress, it releases a hor­mone called cor­ti­cotrophin re­leas­ing fac­tor, or CRF, which craves high-en­ergy foods (think cheat­day foods). While this cor­re­la­tion is well known, the doc­tors link meta­bolic syn­drome to an­he­do­nia, or a blunted sense of plea­sure, which can re­sult in overeat­ing.

Other in­ter­est­ing take­aways point to the side ef­fects and faulty claims of fat sub­sti­tutes, why meta­bolic syn­drome is linked to ab­dom­i­nal obe­sity, and an anal­y­sis of the com­po­si­tion of body fat, or the adi­pose tis­sue, lyri­cally de­scribed as “a tex­tile cre­ated from oil”. A chap­ter ti­tled “Mea­sur­ing The Body” of­fers al­ter­na­tives to the West­ern BMI stan­dard—while a BMI of over 29 qual­i­fies as obe­sity in­ter­na­tion­ally, Dr Syed and Dr Swami­nathan place this num­ber at 25 for In­di­ans, adapted to In­dian bod­ies.

The two doc­tors have pre­vi­ously col­lab­o­rated un­der the name Kalpish Ratna, in­clud­ing for the de­tailed The Se­cret Life Of Zika Virus, pub­lished last year. Their lat­est book breaks down the sci­ence of food and fat with ev­ery­day analo­gies and anec­dotes from de­part­men­tal stores and Hot Chips out­lets. While there are oc­ca­sional de­scrip­tions that make one squea­mish (like the way sari wear­ers’ “midriffs rise like idli dough”), the book will force you to re­con­sider the choices you make off menus and gro­cery aisles.

—Vat­sala Ch­hib­ber

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